Bandera

Took another trip downtown, and stopped by this little gem on a good friend’s recommendation. And since I’ve been searching for a place to have good American food (whatever that means), I thought, “Why not?” Especially after I glanced through the Yelp reviews.

The interesting thing about this restaurant is that although it’s located on the Magnificent Mile, you actually have to head up a set of escalators to get to it, as it’s on the second floor above a Citibank. This means that it’s one of the very few places I’ve been to in the States that actually utilises space-saving techniques, something I rather took for granted while living in Hong Kong. Anyway, the ceiling is lined with chandeliers, but don’t let that or the super-dim lighting inside the restaurant intimidate you, because the atmosphere is actually quite casual, especially during the lunch hour.

Once again, I went with a group of friends, and got to sample some of their most recommended dishes. The corn bread (straight from the skillet and onto our table) was very fresh, and I could see actual pieces of corn in it! Warm, comforting food, even though I’m not a huge fan of corn bread. But even that paled in comparison to the entreés.

First, the Bandera-style roast chicken with green rice (i.e. with cilantro, peppers, bits of tomato etc). The chicken was a little too dry, although the dark meat was better. To be honest, I think Costco’s rotisserie chicken tastes better than this. But the green rice concoction saved this dish – it was moist, fluffy, and had a depth of flavour that even pilaf or saffron rice doesn’t usually have. Not the best or most original dish in general, but still a hearty meal for a good price.

The ahi tuna salad was much better. I wouldn’t say that this is a completely American dish, but who cares? East meeting west is all the rage (at least food-wise), and Bandera does this with flair. The tuna was perfectly seared, marinated with sesame and soy. Very Asian (although to be completely Asian, it would have been sashimi-style, not seared). They even put a stack of pickled ginger slices on the side, like they do when you have sushi. That was good, too – not too strong, but sour enough to stir your appetite. The salad itself was also very fresh and crunchy, with bits of red onion and pieces of cherry tomatoes for extra flavour. The dressing was also very good – again, Asian-style with a light, sesame-flavoured tang to it.

Last but not least, we tried the aged prime rib. So. GOOD. Tender, moist, and cooked just right, in the way that it slices as easily as tofu does. The mashed potatoes that came with it were also very tasty, with lots of green onion in it for flavour and colour. Much better than most restaurants’ mash, and I should know because I love mashed potatoes. Hee. As for the main piece of meat, it was HUGE, but so. GOOD. So we threw our cares away, and stuffed ourselves.

On other notes, the service was very fast and very pleasant – our server was super-attentive, and very helpful, making us feel comfortable and relaxed. A big smile and a great attitude goes a long way! The restaurant was also very pleasing, with soft background music and intimate booths that curved into slightly more than a deep semi-circle, so it felt as if we had a room to ourselves. The only weird thing was that Bandera was holding interviews on the tables across from us, so we got a full view of how they hire new employees. Bad timing, I suppose. But easily overlooked in favour of everything else! 8/10, and tell your friends about this place! Average $20 per person for lunch.

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